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Arafat: Palestinians on verge of statehood

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat appeared to be joking when he said he was willing to give up executive powers.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat appeared to be joking when he said he was willing to give up executive powers.  


RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said Monday that reforms are bringing the Palestinian people to the threshold of having an independent state.

In what appeared to be a joking aside, Arafat also said he was willing to let the Palestinian Legislative Council replace him.

In an address to the council, Arafat condemned "every act of terror against Israeli civilians," but he did not explicitly call for a halt to such attacks. He said Israel had used terror attacks to carry out crimes against Palestinians.

"We have to reiterate our condemnation of attacks against Israeli civilians and at the same time to any attacks against Palestinian civilians," he said.

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In recent days, Arafat's interior minister, Abdel Razaq al-Yihya, has called for an end to suicide attacks.

Arafat called on the legislative council to hold a special session to review and "correct" the reforms that the Palestinian Cabinet adopted. He said the council also could review his Cabinet shake-up, which some council members have criticized for not going far enough.

In what appeared to be an off-the-cuff remark, a smiling Arafat also told the council, "If you want, you can bring someone else to replace me in the executive powers. I wish you would do it and give me some rest."

Arafat reaffirmed that legislative and presidential elections for the Palestinian Authority will be held in January.

He said the elections and reforms should demonstrate the Palestinians are ready for the declaration of an independent state alongside Israel.

"Our national interest is to preserve international support for our legitimate right to resist the [Israeli] military and settlement occupation," Arafat said.

Addressing Israelis, the Palestinian leader said, "We want to achieve peace with you. We want security and stability for us and for you based on international resolutions and the agreements between us."

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators plan to hold high-level meetings Tuesday to discuss the implementation of a cease-fire and the resumption of negotiations.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is scheduled to meet with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, al-Yihya and Finance Minister Salam Fayad.

An adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he saw little new in Arafat's remarks.

"Israel is a country committed to peace, and as such it has very specific expectations from a responsible Palestinian partner," said Sharon adviser Dore Gold.

"We expect that a Palestinian partner who is responsible will not have security services manned by operatives of terror organizations," Gold said. "We expect transparency in the use of international funds. None of that was heard in this speech. It was very little new in what was said."

Nevertheless, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators plan to hold high-level meetings Tuesday to discuss the implementation of a cease-fire and the resumption of negotiations.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is scheduled to meet with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, al-Yihya and Finance Minister Salam Fayad.

Arafat has not left his Ramallah compound in months as the United States and international community have called for an overhaul in the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinian leader's popularity has slipped among the Palestinian people in recent months. Without naming him directly, President Bush has called for changes in the Palestinian leadership.

In response to Arafat's speech, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters, "We haven't gone through it in detail to describe every word that's there and every one that's not there."

Boucher added, "We've heard the words about condemning violence and terror. We always welcome remarks like that. But, obviously, we've seen remarks like that before."



 
 
 
 


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